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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
May 2003

X PRIZE Trajectory
Copyright ofX PRIZE

This section contains brief articles concerning developments in the field of reusable launch and space vehicles with links to news sources, NASA, company sites, etc.

See the Advanced Rocketery Section for entries on
advanced amateur & student rocketry, experimental rocketry,
& innovations by small rocket companies.

In addtion, the Space Log contains news about
amateur space activities, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

May 31, 2003

Private space in New Mexico ... The recent Space Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Developers Symposium sponsored by the New Mexico Office for Space Commercialization brought together a number of RLV firms who spoke of possible operations in the state. See N.M. Spaceport Proposal Returns By Rene Albuquerque - Journal Southern Bureau - May.2.03 and Space travel - Las Cruces Sun News - May.4.03 for reports on the meeting.

Suborbital soundings ... I've heard that TGV Rockets has starting hiring engineers for its Norman, Oklahoma facility. ...

... People working at the Mojave airport occasionally hear the rumblings from static tests of the SS1 engines.

May 30, 2003

Great radio rocket show ... I thought the Science Friday show on private space development went very well. All the guests were quite articulate and made many good points. The audio is [now -June 4] in their archive.

In past years, radio and TV shows on private space development typically spent a lot of time just trying to convince the audience that the concept was not a fantasy. Now, because of the hardware at SS1, Armadillo, etc. the proof is right there up front and the discussion can go right to substantive matters about regulations, when launches will start, follow-on projects, etc. Seems like real progress to me.

TransHab Architecture... Not relevant to RLVs (except with regards to the places that RLVs will eventually go to) but check out my interview with Constance Adams who worked as an architect on the TransHab inflatable ISS module project.

May 29, 2003

Talking about rockets ... The X PRIZE site announces that "X PRIZE Chairman Peter Diamandis will be featured and participate in the live, call-in, National Public Radio (NPR) radio program "Talk of the Nation: Science Friday" as the nation discusses private spacecraft development. The program will air live on Friday, May 30 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM Eastern, although times vary per NPR station."

In addition to Peter, the show will include Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace and Edward Hudgins of the Cato Institute and editor of Space: the Free-Market Frontier.

See also May 30, 2003: Hour One: Development of Private Space Vehicles on the www.sciencefriday.com site.

(Thanks to Gretchen & Ken Davidian of X PRIZE for this item.)

IT Rocketeers ... The Economist magazine this week has a brief article on information-technology industry leaders going into space development with a focus on Elon Musk - The sky's the limit: A new way to escape the gloom of the IT industry. Go into space - Economist - May.29.03

Canadian Arrow selects its crew ... The selection of an "international team of Astronauts" will be announced on June 26th. The event will also "include never before seen photos of the rocket in assembly and the future plans to capture the X Prize."

News brief ... Interorbital reveals a new design for its Solaris-X entry in the X PRIZE competition. [May.30.03 - I should have noted that I got this news via a posting on sci.space.policy by Jonathan Goff]

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 28, 2003

SS1 flight update ... The latest issue of Aviation Week has a one page story about the recent captive carry flight of the SpaceShipOne with the White Knight. Highlights include:

  • The flight reached 50k ft, lasted an hour and 45 minutes, and was "solid as a rock" according to Burt Rutan, meeting all performance expectations.
  • Two test pilots guided the White Knight but only ballast rode in the SS1.
  • No fuel was in the SS1 hybrid motor so the total SS1/White Knight weight was estimated to be about 20% lower than for an operational flight.
  • The SS1 is undergoing vibration tests and flights will resume when these finish.
  • Next flight will be another captive carry but with a pilot in the SS1 and with most systems active.
  • A glide flight may then occur, followed by a second glide flight to test the feather.
  • They hope to do a 100km flight by the end of the year.

Tether booster boosted... Tethers Unlimited (TUI) and three other companies received $4 million NASA grant to develop technology needed for a rotating tether in orbit that would grab satellites from 100km and sling them to higher orbits:NASA aims high with orbital transport system: Hi-tech ropes may replace rocket boosters. - Nature - May.29.03 (via spacetoday.net)

The Momentum-Exchange/Electrodynamic-Reboost (MXER) Tether System, "will enable satellites to be launched on smaller, less expensive rockets and drop the propulsion costs for space missions by a factor of ten or more." according to the TUI press release : Tethers Unlimited Wins NASA Contract to Develop "Revolutionary " Space Tether Transportation System - TUI - May.16.03 .

The money will go for further development of their simulator and of the Hoytether™ that could provide "a failsafe, multiline tether structure able to survive for many years in the orbital space debris environment."

Rocket Guy Update... Brian Walker, who made a great impression at the recent Space Access' 03 meeting, has posted several updates on his web site including items on his rocket motor, hydrogen peroxide distillation, the launch trailer, and the test rocket.

Kistler - real or pretend? I noted earlier that Kistler Aerospace had recently made a big overall of their website. I've been poking around the site and mostly it's the same as before but with new page layouts.

However, the organization is now very much like that of a company expecting to be attracting and serving customers. See, for example, the pages K-1 List Prices, Flight Opportunities, and Payload Questionaire. Most of this info was available on the old site but not in such an explicitly payload customer interactive format.(Note that the Flight Experiments Design and Requirements Document announced on May 16th is available for download - pdf - 2.5MB.) Web site makeovers usually doesn't mean much but it seems odd to make all this effort if they are just pretending they are going to be launching payloads.

After the collapse in their funding in the wake of the Iridium/Globalstar failures, there have been occasional hints that new funding would soon get the project back on track but nothing substantial ever happened. So skepticism is certainly warranted.

Nowadays Kistler remains oddly quiet. John Bonne of MSNBC told me back in February that Kistler had turned down his request for an interview. With high profile people like George Mueller and other ex-top NASA leaders involved in the company, I'm surprised they are not speaking out more.

Aviation Week's yearly launch vehicle review said the company's investors continue to support it. Perhaps they are hoping that O'Keefe will eventually see the K-1 as an opportunity to obtain low cost ISS resupply.

May 27, 2003

Students reuse Starboosters... "Cal Poly Space Systems (CPSS) rocket club from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo succesfully launched, recovered, and re-launched a three-rocket cluster with two glideback boosters and a centerstage on May 17-18, 2003 at "Dairy Aire" near Fresno, California." CPSS Turns 2 StarBoosters Around in 24 Hours - Cal. Space Authority - May.20.03 (via ERPS).

The 1.5m rocket cluster models the Starbooster design originated by Buzz Aldrin. A 3m single Starbooster also was launched successfully and it executed a horizontal landing safely as well. See the Cal Poly Space Systems home site for more about the project along with images and videos of previous launches.

Shop at your favorite rocket store... I've noticed that some of the suborbital rocket groups and companies have set up on line stores to sell posters, T shirts, memorabilia, and other items related to their projects. Check out the rocket shop list if you would like get some cool rocket stuff and to give the rocketeers your support.

X PRIZE brief ... The X PRIZE home page gives the following report

Pablo de Leon & Associates completed successful testing of the life support system of the Gauchito, its X PRIZE vehicle. The tests, conducted in Argentina, included high altitude flights (30,000 feet) in gliders with the crew using the team's space suit system. The de León team also successfully completed several thermal tests of the space suit. The space suit successfully sustained temperature for more than two hours, twice the maximum duration of the team's planned land operations, flight, and recovery phase for its X PRIZE flights. de León team page on the X PRIZE site.

News briefs ... The Planerary Society and American Astronautical Society make recommendations on development of vehicles for human space exploration beyond Earth orbit : Stepping into the Future: The Planetary Society and American Astronautical Society Call for New Vehicle to Propel Humans into Space - The Planetary Society - May.27.03 ...

... SAIC Wins NASA Orbital Space Plane Contract - SAIC PR/Spaceref - May.27.03

May 26, 2003

Suborbital Institute goes to Congress ... As posted here earlier, on May 19th the SubOrbital Institute organized a lobbying event on Capitol Hill.This followed a similar campaign last February (see my posting and an article by Jeff Foust). In these events members and volunteers meet with Congressional staff to present issues of interest to the development of a suborbital reusable launch vehicle industry.

I could not attend due to a previously scheduled trip but Andrew Case sent me a report:

The SubOrbital Institute is an industry association for the emerging suborbital launch services industry, with a membership that includes most of the small innovative spaceflight startups. The focus of the event on the 19th was to lobby members of the Senate Commerce Committee to reduce the regulatory barriers facing the suborbital startups. The two main items being promoted were full staffing for the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commercialization (OSC) and the formation of a Senate Suborbital Caucus.

The OSC currently has funding for 5 positions, but there is only one person in the office, and no director. As SubOrbital startups begin to grow it is important that they have an advocate within the Department of Commerce.

The SubOrbital Caucus is simply a group of Senators who have an interest in SubOrbital issues. The advantage of having a caucus is that it serves as a political focus for suborbital issues.

In addition to the two primary issues at this event there were subsidiary issues regarding the formation of new spaceports and improvement in the environment for insurance of SubOrbital vehicles.

Note that the OSC published last fall the very timely Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Applicable Markets report, which in the briefings I participated in was very useful in convincing Congressional staff that suborbital RLVs offer a viable path to space development. Be sure to check out this report (1.8MB pdf) if you haven't already.

May 25, 2003

X PRIZE in PopSci ... As mentioned here earlier, the May issue of Popular Science had a very nice article about the X PRIZE with a focus on Armadillo Aerospace. The article is now online at A Few Dreamers Building Rockets in Workshops - Popular Science - May.2003 issue.

X PRIZE Vehicle Options ... The paper by Marti and Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn described here back in March, was briefly mentioned in an entry in "In Orbit" section of the May 19th issue of Aviation Week. The entry notes the paper's analysis of the various design approaches to an X PRIZE vehicle and it's conclusion that "vertical takeoff and some air-launch [are] methods reasonable ways to ascend, and wings and decelerators [are] the way to come back."

"This has stirred controversy" according to the entry, which says that Burt Rutan "criticised the assessment for making too much of historical comparisons and not enough of first-principles analysis." See the recent discussions at ERPS and sci.space.policy.

The paper can be downloaded from AIAA paper 2003-0909 (pdf, 910kb).

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 22, 2003

News briefs ... XCOR welcomes a spaceman aboard - Former NASA Astronaut Richard Searfoss Joins XCOR Board of Directors - XCOR PR - May.22.03 ...

... Starchaser get more PR in England - British Rocketmen Approach Space Mission Countdown - Reuters - May.21.03

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 21, 2003

Successful SpaceShipOne captive flight ... As indicated here earlier, Scaled Composites flew the White Knight with the SpaceShipOne on its first captive flight this week. See the the announcement on the X PRIZE site and also SpaceShipOne makes first captive carry flight - Spacetoday.net - May.21.03, which says that Peter Diamandis mentioned the flight during a presentation at the COMSTAC meeting today.

News briefs ... Leonard David looks at the OSP design question: The Next Shuttle: Capsule or Spaceplane? - Space.com - May.21.03 ...

... Space Review reprints the recent speech by Representative Dave Weldon (R-Fla) on the OSP, capsule approach, and other space policy questions : Dave Weldon speaks about space policy - The Space Review - May.21.03 (His demand for faster development of the OSP is laudable but his view that fully reusable launch vehicles are beyond our current capability is misinformed.) ...

... X PRIZE contestant Starchaser will host another open house on June 14th and 15th.

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 20, 2003

Kistler updates web site ... Kistler Aerospace unveils a major redesign of their web site. Also, they've added a poster in a pdf file illustrating the K-1 Status ("First Vehicle 75% Finished") and a flash animation of a K-1 flight.

Don't know if this signals any major development in their project but they did release a brief PR last week Release of the Flight Experiments Design and Requirements Document (FEDR)... - Kistler - May.16.03 about the completion of a study with NASA on using the K-1 to carry experiments.

News brief ... Leonard David reviews the status of XCOR's Xerus project: XCOR Zeroes in on Xerus - Space.com - May.20.03. Note that the development cost mentioned at SA'03 was around $10 million.

May 19, 2003

First SS1 Captive Carry Flight... I've heard that Scaled Composite plans soon to fly the White Knight with SpaceShipOne for the first time, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

News brief... RLV related projects included in recent space grants in Florida to education and research groups : Grants Awarded for Florida Space Research/Education Projects - Florida Space Grant Consortium/Spaceref - May.19.03. See project listing at the Florida Space Research Institute.

Cheap long shots ... Greg Easterbrook returns again with a space transportation article created with his usual weird mix of keen insights and half-truths, right-on comments and silly one-liners, extensive research and huge holes in that research: Long Shot - Atlantic Monthly - May.03. (See also an earlier article after the Columbia disaster.)

Firstly, Easterbrook should have actually talked with the "first space tourists" before panning space travel. Both Tito and Shuttleworth are effusive in their praise for their space journeys. Their trips were not ordeals marred by "agonizing G-forces" and motion sickness. I attended a lecture given by Tito and the whole hour was given to his attempts to describe what a pure state of joy he experienced during his week in space.

Furthermore, [Rosaviakosmos] had about a dozen serious candidates for future rides to the ISS when the Columbia disaster caused it to suspend the tourist program temporarily. A yearly income of $40 million for the two free seats a year may be a "limited market" but it is a market nonetheless and a strong indicator of a much bigger market for lower priced rides.

Nevertheless, Easterbrook is on the mark in highlighting Sea Launch as a very important milestone in the development of commercial space businesses. He reveals to a broad audience the fascinating story of how this wholly private enterprise not only overcame dramatic technological challenges but also difficult sociological and political obstacles to create a whole new space launch system. The financial success or failure of Sea Launch will certainly have a big effect on future efforts to bring about large private space ventures.

However, he does not need to make the story of Sea Launch seem more special and unique by trashing all other private rocket ventures. You certainly would not know from his report, for example, that Kistler got far past the design stage and not only built K-1 hardware but finished 75% [May.20.03 - corrected from previous 80%] of the first model. NASA would have a fully reusable launch vehicle taking supplies to the ISS right now if in 2001 it had funded the completion of the K-1 or offered Kistler a larger carrot so that someone else would fund the vehicle.

Easterbrook notes the hardware developed by Beal but he just sums up that endeavor with the cute remark: "The rocket motor worked fine, but Beal Aerospace did not". However, Beal claimed that he closed the company because of the unfair financial support given by NASA and the Pentagon to his competitors via the EELV and SLI programs. I would have thought this quite relevant to Easterbrook's thesis that Sea Launch faces similar competition. However, Easterbrook had assigned Beal to the crackpot launch schemes section and did not want any contrary facts to mess up the flow of his story.

Similarly, cheap shots at prototypes like the Rotary Rocket ATV, which are only intended to test particular components of a system, are obviously pointless and gratuitous. I assume that's why he ignored suborbital projects since any steppingstone vehicle that doesn't immediately reach orbit is apparently beneath his consideration.

It's just as well that Rutan's SS1 rollout occurred after he submitted this article since I'm sure he would have slammed it as more space buff whimsy. However, the nice thing about the privately funded suborbital projects is that they can develop at their own pace and not worry constantly about public relations. They just need to make steady progress one step at a time till they get halfway to anywhere.

News briefs ... Rand Simberg says that Max Faget's recent comments against flying the shuttles again should be seen in the context of the alternative design (Shuttle NAR A ) that he promoted : Historical Ignorance - Transterrestrial Musings - May.17.03 ...

... Popular Science has posted the recent article in the print edition about Next Generation Space Shuttles. - Popular Science - May.03 ...

... Hypersonic efforts continue : Pentagon and NASA team up to design hypersonic plane - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - May.19.03 (found via spacetoday.net)

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 16, 2003

News briefs ... The da Vinci Project X PRIZE entry will launch from Saskatchewan : World's first independent manned space launch from Saskatchewan - da Vinci Project - May.13.03. The precise launch date will be announced later this year. ...

... The latest on the StarBooster design, originated by Buzz Aldrin, in the latest issue of Space Equity : The Crisis in Spacelift by Thomas L. Matula & Ted Talay - Space Equity - May.15.03 ...

... Plus this brief interview: Seven Questions for Peter Diamandis - Space Equity - May.15.03

Shuttle program under pressure... The shuttles will either need significant modifications - Orbiters need changes before fleet flies again - OrlandoSentinel - May.16.03 - or, as urged by Max Faget, will stop flying altogether - Shuttle Pioneer Calls for End to Manned Flights - LA Times - May.16.03

May 15, 2003

News brief ... The da Vinci project seems to be making progress towards a test flight : Prairie launch pad picked for manned space flight - The Globe and Mail - May.14.03

May 14, 2003

News briefs ... Jeff Foust gives his impression of SA ' 03 and the state of the RLV industry : The fifth stage of the RLV grieving process - The Space Review - May.14.03 ...

... John McKnight says suborbital RLVs provide the mature path to space: Smells Like Teen Spirit - John Carter McKnight - May.14.03 ... However, Michael Mealling notes that JCMc mistakenly attributes a press release to the Moon Society/ Artemis Society - Smells Like Body Odor - Rocket Forge - Michael Mealling ...

... Kenneth Schweitzer urges NASA to provide funding for the smaller launch companies like Kistler to bridge what they can raise privately to what they need to get vehicles like the K-1 flying - NASA as an Equity Partner by Kenneth Schweitzer - SpaceDaily - May.13.03 [Ken is an advertiser at HobbySpace but I like this essay regardless!] ...

... Along similar lines, Rick Tumlinson presents a strong case for continuing the Alternate Access to Space program in an editorial in this weeks Space News - NASA and Capitalism - A Tool Discarded (not available on line unfortunately) ...

... Buzz talks about Starcraft Boosters, crew escapce systems, and the exploration of space - Buzz Aldrin Explains What's Next For America's Space Program - Popular Mechanics - May.03 ...

... E'Prime Aerospace web site says the company, which has been working for many years on converting ICBMs to orbital launchers, will soon announce its own Orbital Space Plane design that would ride on one of its Eagle ELV and launch by 2008. (Thanks to Ken Schweitzer for this link.)

May 13, 2003

DARPA decides to hypersoar ... Apparently Preston Carter, DARPA project manager of RASCAL and other launch programs, has apparently convinced his bosses that his HyperSoar concept is worth pursuing. The Mach 10 vehicle, which would fly along the top of the atmosphere, cycling between 32 to 64km, was developed by Carter while he worked at Livermore National Lab.

According to the latest Space News (May 12,03) DAPRA will start a HyperSoar program this year. Such a vehicle could serve as a satellite launching platform (up to "1000kg to orbit") or to deliver weapons. It could reach any spot in the world within 2 hours.

There's no announcement at the DARPA web site but there is this RFI from last fall.

News briefs ... More about the Science Subcommittee hearing - Orbital Space Plane's Congressional Critics:'Unconvinced' of NASA's Need - Space.com - May.12.03. ...

... Study of debris danger to those on the ground from shuttle breakup also relevant to commercial RLVs and their liability/insurance requirements : Study will gauge re-entry risk: Panel hopes to determine danger level to civilians below - Florida Today - May.13.03 ...

... Lund University students in architecture and design look at options for an X-38 style Crew Return Vehicle .

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 12, 2003

Space Show rocket launcher guests ... The Space Show for Wednesday, May 14, 2003, will feature Elon Musk as the guest. Mr. Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX. (The latest SpaceX status update is now posted at Spaceref)

On Sunday, May 18, 2003 the show will feature The Suborbital Institute and its director, Pat Bahn. Mr. Bahn is the CEO of TGV rockets and the Washington director of the Suborbital Institute, a trade association aimed at promoting the nascent suborbital launch industry. The Institute will send volunteers to Capitol Hill on May 19th. See announcement.

Roton ATV resists leaving Mojave ... Mike Massee of XCOR has posted a series of photos he took of an attempt to move the Roton ATV to the Classic Rotors Museum in San Diego via a Chinook helicopter. The ATV became unstable on its tether and the helicopter returned back to the Mojave Airport where the landing nearly turned into a disaster when the top of the ATV smacked into the bottom of the Chinook. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Last Flight of 6-story Roton Forced to Abort - Antelope Valley Press - May.12.03 (Copy at The Space Policy Digest BBS - May.12.03)

5 years max ... Excerpt from Michael Griffin's testimony last week to the House Space Subcommittee:

"Regarding the program schedule, it seems inconceivable to me that a nation which required only eight years to reach the moon, from virtually a standing start, can require a similar or greater length of time to design and deploy a simple crew transport vehicle. If the OSP program requires more than five years - at the outside - from authorization to proceed until first flight, it is being done wrong. My primary recommendation, the only one I think can affect the outcome in a significant manner, is this: Define carefully the goals the OSP is to meet. Pick a strong, effective, proven, and trusted program manager, and accord to him or her the total authority and responsibility for success. Set aside the necessary funds, with adequate margin. And then see to it that everyone else stays out of the way. " - my emphasis

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 11, 2003

SFF calls for new transport policy... The Space Fronter Foundation issues a call for NASA to buy space transportation rather than develop systems itself - Foundation Calls on NASA to Transform Itself "As Only NASA Can", Wants Agency to "Buy Rather Than Build" New Space Vehicles - Space Frontier Foundation - May.6.05.

See also the proposed Space Transportation Policy by Alfred Differ - Frontier Files Online - May.6.03.

News brief... Check out the transcripts from the House Space Committee hearing (Charter) last week on the Shuttle and OSP programs: Chairman Rohrabacher | Frederick Gregory | Dale Myers | Jerry Grey | Michael Griffin.

May 9, 2003

XCOR writeup... Space Tourists : XCOR’s sub-orbital rocket could be the ultimate thrill in adventure travel - Cornell Engineering Magazine - May.9.03

OSP gets roughed up in the House... There's still hope that Congress won't passively accept continued operation of the shuttle and the decade long, $12 billion OSP development scheme . NASA officials got a tough reception yesterday at the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing on NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP) and Orbital Space Plane Program.

[May.11.03: See transcript links above.]

Some of the comments include:

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas: "I am not going to vote for any funding for the existing orbiter to go back to space..."

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX) : "NASA's proposed Orbital Space Plane program won't deliver a Space Station crew return vehicle until four years after we need it, and it will cost billions of dollars more than the X-38/CRV program that was cancelled by the Administration. I think that 's both shortsighted and wasteful. We can do better."

Witness Dr. Jerry Grey, from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), recommended modifying the shuttle to fly unmanned for delivering heavy payloads to the ISS. He also said "One troubling fact is the current OSP development cost estimate, which, although admittedly premature, ranges from $9 billion to $13 billion. Whatever happened to the $1.2 billion Crew Return Vehicle...?"

Michael D. Griffin, of In-Q-Tel and formerly at Orbital Sciences, testified about the OSP: "It scarcely needs to be said that it will be extremely hard to justify the development of such a vehicle, at a cost of several billions of dollars, for such a limited purpose as OSP will have, given the requirements envisioned for it today."

SpaceX update... The latest SpaceX status report was emailed out yesterday (not yet posted on their site; sign up on their email distribution to recieve the reports.) Some highlights of the long message included

  • "several successful firings of the Falcon main engine (named Merlin), the first stage is almost complete, the second stage is in fabrication, our prototype fairing structure is done and a lot of the small, but important pieces arrived."
  • A three day Falcon design review with reps from NASA, Air Force, FAA and others went well.
  • They have a verbal agreement for a payload from DOD and a written agreement with an international government for a second payload.
  • Latest calculations of payload capacity look better than previously stated: "1,250lbs (570kg) to 200km LEO from Cape Canaveral. This is 25% above our initial target of a 1,000lb payload capability. Pricing for the Falcon remains constant at $6 million per launch. "
  • "starting in Q4 2004, SpaceX will offer Falcon with two liquid strap-on boosters in a configuration similar to Boeing’s Delta IV Heavy. Falcon’s capability to LEO would increase substantially to above 4000lbs (1820kg) and enable GTO payloads of approximately 1300lbs (590kg)."
  • Human spaceflight is a long term goal "part of the reason why we have spent substantial capital on reliability -- some would argue more than is necessary for satellites -- is that we would like Falcon to be safe enough for human transportation. However, we believe it makes sense to prove reliability with satellites before putting people on the rocket. 99% reliability is considered exceptionally good in the satellite delivery world, but is not very satisfactory for people."
  • Several photos: engine firing (combustion efficiency nearing target of 96%), the turbo pump (which will begin tests in May), 1st stage primary structure, avionics ring, satellite adapter cone and separation system, payload faring, and the test stand in Texas.

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 8, 2003

RVT test flights to start in June ... The Japanese RVT reusable vertical takeoff/vertical landing vehicle will begin test flights in late June according to the update posted at - Reusable Rocket Vehicle Test: The 5th Static Firing Test - ISAS - Apr.25.03. (Thanks to Kaido Kert for this link.)

A series of successful static test firings of the engine on the RVT-7 and tests of the new composite fuel tanks give them confidence they can now begin flights. See the previous item on March 27, 2003 about the program.

SpaceShipOne briefs... London takes notice - Three-seater powers up for cheap space trip - Times Online - May.8.03 (link found at spacetoday.net)...

... The Scaled Composites entry page at the X PRIZE has, not surprisingly, been updated and includes a new team briefing (pdf, 284kb). No new info from what's on the Scaled website but does provide the essential info in a nicely compact form.

X Prize briefs ... The Romanian X PRIZE team ARCA is posting regular updates on progress including recent development of a propulsion test stand and engine firings. (Thanks to Kaido Kert for this update.)...

... The Starchaser project will have an open house this Saturday (May 10th) at their factory in Hyde, England. Admission is free. See their website for a map and other info....

... A positive article on The X-Prize at the Christian Science Monitor - May.8.03 (link found at spacetoday.net).

OSP briefs ... This charter for hearings today by the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics lays out pretty well the sad history of RLV development at NASA - Hearing Charter: NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan and Orbital Space Plane Program - Spaceref - May.8.03 ...

... Tough day on Capitol Hill for NASA and the OSP : Congressmen, NASA managers clash over escape craft plan - Florida Today - May.8.03. "Gordon said he obtained a NASA document that indicated the true cost of the X-38 spacecraft would have likely been $1.2 billion. In a pointed exchange, Gordon asked Fred Gregory, NASA deputy administrator, why O'Keefe has misled Congress. Gregory responded he did not believe Congress had been misled." ...

... Rand Simberg argues that an Apollo capsule won't save the OSP from failure - Back to the Future - Transterrestrial Musings - May.8.03.

May 7, 2003

Suborbital Action Day - May 19, 2003... The Suborbital Institute will sponsor another Capitol Hill campaign on Monday May 19th in support of issues important to the development of a vibrant suborbital RLV industry. A training session will take place on the evening of the 18th.

Participate if you can. As noted in discussions at the recent Space Access ' 03 meeting, the regulatory framework for suborbital RLVs has reached a crucial stage of development. Reasonable compromises that insure safe operation without onerous and debilitating rules are within reach. Input now can have a big impact on the future of the industry.

Discussions with Congressional staffs and regulators have a much bigger impact when unpaid volunteers are involved. They are impressed that people would take the time off to come and push these issues.

Updates will be posted here as they arrive. In the meantime, contact Pat Bahn (TGV Rockets) for more details. A training session will take place on the evening of the 18th.

Articles on the previous campaign in February:

SA ' 03 review ... Leonard David has posted his impressions of the Space Access ' 03 meeting : Rocketeers: Setting Their Sights on Suborbital Flights - Space.com - May.7.03

News brief ... NASA asks for input on its approach to acquiring an OSP - Request for Information on the Acquisition Strategy for the Orbital Space Plane - MSFC/Spaceref - May.6.03.

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 6, 2003

News briefs ... More about the Apollo OSP - Orbital Space Plane: Back to Apollo? by Jeff Foust - The Space Review - May.6.03 ...

... But capsules do have their little quirks - Computer Glitch Eyed in Soyuz's Wild Ride Home - Space.com - May.6.03 ...

... Another article about the SS1 - Not Just for Millionaires and Pop Stars: A private company reveals its craft for sending tourists to space - Astronomy - May.6.03

GE studies flyback boosters... SLI funds GE to look at a turbojet powered flyback first stage boosters for a 2nd gen RLV - GE Aircraft Engines to develop 'flyback' rocket boosters - e4engineering - May.6.03 (link found at spacetoday.net)

Northrop SLI engine development... Northrop gets SLI contract for further development of the "TR107, a one-million-pound thrust class liquid oxygen/kerosene reusable engine that operates on an oxidizer-rich staged combustion cycle" - Northrop Grumman Awarded NASA Contract for Next Generation Launch Technology - Northrop PR - May.6.03 .

Technologies under development "include a duct-cooled main chamber, a pre-burner pintle injector and materials that do not require coatings for the oxidizer-rich environment. The TR107 provides high performance with a simple robust design that minimizes the parts count for greater reliability and operability and also minimizes the power head operating pressures to increase engine life."

Columbia/Shuttle Program...

May 5, 2003

News briefs... During the Q&A after his lecture last year at the National Air & Space Museum, Dennis Tito dismissed suborbital rocket trips as nothing but joyrides. Now, though, he seems to have warmed up to the idea now - Tito urges more to travel in space - Florida Today - May.1.03. Perhaps he will also change his mind about not investing in suborbital vehicle development....

... ABC News discovers the X PRIZE - Race Is on for Commerial Space Flight: Several Teams Making Steps Toward Commercial Space Flights - ABCNEWS - May.5.03 ...

... Bruce Moonmaw finds shuttle deceptions and conspiracies : Thirty Years Of Fudge Could Bring Down The Shuttle Yet - SpaceDaily - May.2.03 (link from Rick Boozer) ...

... More about the Japan/France spaceplane prototype test : France boosts Japan's space shuttle - MSNBC - May.2.03

May 3, 2003

Launch companies meeting... COMSTAC (Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee) will be holding a meeting on Wednesday May 21st at the FAA Headquarters in Washington D.C. : COMSTAC meeting - Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST. Various launch issues under discussion related to both ELV and RLV developments.

May 2, 2003

SpaceX images ... Photos of the Merlin liquid oxygen and kerosene engine, a test firing, and the test stand have been posted on the SpaceX website (click on Updates and then Image Gallery.

News briefs ...Brad Stone of Newsweek chats on line about the startup launch companies - Privatizing Space Exploration [chat transcript] Newsweek - May.2.03 (link via spacetoday.net)....

... France to assist Japan on the HSFD-2 (High Speed Flight Demonstrator) air drop test this month in northern Sweden - Japan Plans Joint Space Test with France - Reuters - May.2.03 (link via spacetoday.net) ...

... More about the Apollo-CRV study : Updated Apollo capsule could replace lifeboat: Experts: Craft would be part of crew-return system for station - Florida Today - May.1.03 ... NASA may go back to future: Apollo-type craft could be space 'lifeboat' - L.A. Daily News - May.2.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

May 1, 2003

SpaceDev hybrid engine test
Test firing of SpaceDev's hybrid engine.

SpaceDev SS1 engine photos... I had missed this earlier press release (April 18th) at SpaceDev. It includes photos and videos of their hybrid engine that is competing with eAc to win the Scaled SS1 propulsion contract (see the eAc press release below.)

Will they also go back to crewcuts, narrow ties, and slide rules? NASA ponders an Apollo capsule approach for the Space Station crew rescue vehicle - Report on Top-Level Assessment of Use of Apollo Systems for ISS CRV 17 March 2003 - SpaceRef - Apr.30.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

Continue to April 2003

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